Roy Hodgson’s starting XI against Italy – combinations and permutations

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In the weathered hands of England manager Roy Hodgson rests a seemingly infinite number of combinations and permutations from which to pluck a starting XI for the World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday.

Attack is where the discrepancy lives. Joe Hart will start in goal, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will be the starting back four, and Steven Gerrard has locked down one of the central midfield spots.

That much we know. But from there on forward, things get sticky.

The general issue is whether Hodgson will go aggressive and deploy a diamond midfield behind two strikers or whether he’ll opt for the balance of a 4-2-3-1, utilizing two holding players behind three attacking midfielders and a lone striker. But formation is only one component of Hodgson’s prescription. A considerably larger concern is one of personnel and with a number of talented young stallions at his disposal, the England manager has some very difficult decisions to make.

So let’s take a look at a few different setups Hodgson has available to roll out against the Azzurri.

THE TASTE OF LIVERPOOL

The most talked about formation for England, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield, happens to be the same shape Liverpool used to claim second place in the past season’s Premier League. Brendan Rodgers perfected this setup with a rotating group of midfielders but always present in the bunch was Gerrard, at the fulcrum, and Raheem Sterling, in any one of the three advanced roles. Proving himself capable of opening defenses up from the left or right side, Sterling’s game rose to a new level late in the season when Rodgers inserted him into the center of the pitch where his quickness and evasive nature proved too much for stiff-legged central defenders.

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Adam Lallana looks poised to exchange his Southampton shirt for a Liverpool kit.

Another key to the diamond midfield is balance, which is achieved through utilizing fit outside midfielders who have no issue playing both sides of the ball. And there’s no better man for that job than Jordan Henderson, who makes 90 minutes of sprinting look like a walk in the park.

A fellow Liverpool player, Henderson has an intimate understanding of Gerrard and Sterling as well as how to correctly use the diamond shape to his advantage. Henderson’s ability to drop deep, at times even alongside Gerrard, allows Hodgson to select a fourth member of the midfield with slightly more aggressive tendencies.

And who better for that role than Adam Lallana, the $34-42M transfer target of Liverpool, who looks primed to join the Reds by the end of July? The 26-year-old excelled on the left side for Southampton this past year, is not opposed to running himself ragged for 70 odd minutes and provides devastating trickery to compliment that of Sterling.

Opting for a four man midfield with Liverpool connections may feel biased but it’s a proven commodity that sparks goals. Factor in the Daniel Sturridge connection up top and this feels like a balanced yet aggressive lineup for Hodgson to utilize in the event he truly desires to take the game to Italy.

THE (ROONEY-LESS?) YOUTH BLITZ

If Hodgson really wants to throw a curveball at Italy he’ll unleash the youth, likely in a 4-2-3-1, which provides a bit more protection than the diamond. The youth setup would partner 22-year-old Jack Wilshere alongside Gerrard in what would be a clever pivot. Wilshere’s love for the tackle compliments that of Gerrard while the Arsenal man’s knack for creating off-the-dribble would provide a key link between the attacking midfielders and the striker.

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Many pundits feel Wayne Rooney’s starting spot could be in jeopardy. Will Hodgson pull the plug?

In front of Gerrard and Wilshere would be 19-year-old Sterling on the left wing, 20-year-old Ross Barkley in the central attacking role and, ideally, 20-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing. The obvious issue currently facing this system is that Oxlade-Chamberlain is nursing a knee issue that may keep him out against Italy. While his speed and two directional play would devastate and provide balance to this shape he’d be well deputized by Henderson or Danny Welbeck, who would then swap sides with Sterling.

One downside of a youth blitz in a 4-2-3-1 is that Wayne Rooney may be the odd man out. It’s a predicament many pundits believe Hodgson may be inclined to move forward with given the United man’s sub-par Premier League season and poor World Cup history. That said, charging forward without Rooney in the starting lineup feels like a titanic miss and one that Hodgson would be wise to avoid risking. Instead, Hodgson could push forward with a youth blitz and Rooney, who could partner with Sturridge in front of a diamond midfield made up of Gerrard, Sterling, Barkley and Ox/Henderson/Welbeck/Wilshere.

Regardless of using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 diamond, the key to the youth blitz would be giving England fans that which they fiend for the most: Sterling alongside Barkley in what would be a freakishly athletic, skillful and audacious pair that few opposing defenses, including the Italians, would be equipped to handle.

THE RUNNING MAN

As we know by now, heat and humidity will play a large role in this World Cup meaning many a match will come down to a battle of the fittest. And no venue will provide a greater challenge of the conditions than the sweltering jungle of Manaus, where England faces Italy. To hedge against those conditions, don’t be surprised if Hodgson opts for an attacking group of running men, which means James Milner becomes a real possibility to start.

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James Milner’s third lung may be enough to get him into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI.

The City man is as fit as the come. Inserting him on the right side along with Gerrard in the fulcrum, the inexhaustible Henderson on the left, and Sterling at the point of a diamond midfield could prove a very wise play.

If Hodgson opts for a 4-2-3-1, Rooney could drop into the attacking midfield role, Sterling to the bench and Wilshere alongside Gerrard.

It’s a lineup that would allow England to put Italy under pressure and bring veteran leadership into the side. While not the most exciting play, Milner’s work rate could break down Italy’s left side for a sub like Sterling or Oxlade-Chamberlain to then capitalize.

THE OLD GUARD

The most conservative and downright uninspiring attack Hodgson could play would be to pair Gerrard with Milner and Frank Lampard.

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Frank Lampard can play a role for England in the World Cup, hopefully just not as a starter.

Whether in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and regardless of who is played on the left side, such a lineup would reek of a lack of ambition and spell doom for England.

Fortunately, while such a makeup could have been foreseeable under Fabio Capello’s tenure as manager, it seems unlikely that Hodgson would revert to such a level of conservative tactics. There is a freshness about this England squad that is just begging to be unleashed on the world.

What better stage to make it happen than to kickoff Brazil 2014?

 

 

 

Stampede at stadium in Honduras kills multiple people

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) Officials in Honduras say thousands of soccer fans trying to force their way into a stadium for a championship match stampeded in panic when police fired tear gas, and at least four people and an unborn fetus were killed in the crush and 25 others were injured.

A spokesman for University Teaching Hospital says the victims died from suffocation and multiple broken bones from being trampled Sunday. Spokesman Miguel Osorio says a fetus died when its mother suffered severe injuries.

The stampede happened at the National Stadium as fans tried to push their way into the jammed venue to see the game between Motagua and Honduras Progreso.

About 600 police officers were guarding the stadium and used water cannon and tear gas trying to push back the crowds.

LIVE, at the half: Huddersfield miss glorious chances v. Reading

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It is tough to explain how Huddersfield Town aren’t ahead at half time of the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on Monday.

[ LIVE: Follow the action from Wembley

The Terriers had two glorious chances early on but Michael Hefele headed wide and then Izzy Brown — on loan from Chelsea — somehow put his effort wide from a yard out.

Reading only had a few forays forward but Jaap Stam’s men held firm with the score locked at 0-0 at the break.

Will David Wagner’s Huddersfield live to rue those missed chances?

Follow the second half live from Wembley by clicking on the link above.


 

LIVE: Playoff final – Huddersfield v. Reading for PL spot

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The richest game in world soccer is here.

[ LIVE: Follow the action from Wembley ]

Huddersfield Town and Reading clash at Wembley Stadium in the Championship playoff final, one win away from the Premier League with the final promotion spot up for grabs after Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion clinched automatic promotion.

Whoever wins this match will alter the path of their club for the foreseeable future.

The winner will not only receive a place in the PL but also a huge sum of $218 million for next season and if they stay up for just one season in the Premier League it is estimated to be worth $372 million.

Below is the team news…

Click on the link above to follow live updates from Wembley, while we will have analysis, reaction and more during and after the game.

VIDEO: Watch Francesco Totti’s emotional Roma farewell

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After a 25-year career at AS Roma, Francesco Totti was handed a fitting farewell on Sunday.

The hometown hero, now 40 years of age, called time on his incredible Roma career and looked overwhelmed.

[ MORE: Totti’s incredible career

Coming on for the 786th and final appearance of his stunning career, the all-time leading scorer for Roma (307 goals in all competitions) helped his team secured a dramatic last-gasp 3-2 win over Genoa to seal second place in the Serie A table and an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Totti spurned big money moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona where he could have won the biggest trophies and individual titles in the game to stay at Roma. He won just one Scudetto with Roma but famously said that was worth 10 league titles had he played for another team.

[ MORE: Serie A final day roundup ]

Following the game it was all about Totti as his teammates and manager broke down in tears, and so too did Totti as he went on a lap of honor with his wife and children at a sold-out Stadio Olimpico.

Rome’s favorite son said goodbye and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Watch the emotional farewell in the videos below.

I know. I have something in my eye too…